Wednesday Women: Back in the saddle

Candace: Well Arlan, we’re about to kick off the second half of the season in earnest, but let’s briefly look at last week’s very short slate of games. There were a couple of surprises for me. I think first though, you have to look at Robert Morris hanging with Bemidji, even though the Colonials lost both games by one. However, losing two such close contests to the No. 8 team in the country is rarefied air for Robert Morris. Earlier in the year, I had hinted that Rebecca Vint’s impressive season to date may have had something to do with the comparably weak schedule the Colonials had played. She figured in three of the four points Robert Morris scored against a defensively sound Beavers squad, and now leads the nation in rookie scoring. Perhaps she’s the breakout star Robert Morris needs to challenge Mercyhurst?

Arlan: Yes and no. Is she a breakout star? I’d say that seems fair, given she holds her team’s highest total for both goals and points by a safe margin. Vint is having a season for RMU similar to the one Kelly Babstock enjoyed for Quinnipiac a year ago, albeit to a lesser magnitude. But as we’ve seen with the Bobcats, adding one impact player on the offensive end isn’t enough when going head-to-head with the juggernauts of the sport. To seriously threaten a team such as Mercyhurst, a team is going to have to be able to perform some aspect of the game better than the Lakers. The Colonials have Vint, and a half a dozen other players that can find the net on any given night. However, Bailey Bram has outdone Vint by 20 points, Christine Bestland leads her by a dozen, and players like Jess Jones and Kelly Steadman can match Vint in points. So I’d say that the situation for the Colonials is still one where they’d better not get into a scoring contest with Mercyhurst, because they’ll find that they are outgunned.

The games versus Bemidji State were either half full or half empty for RMU, depending on one’s perspective. Yes, they played BSU tight, but in the end, they got swept at home — one of the games was played at CONSOL Energy Center. The Beavers were without two of their top players in Emily Erickson and Montana Vichorek, played both of their goaltenders, and managed to find that deciding goal late in both contests. Robert Morris has learned how to compete, and now, they’ll have to learn how to win versus a top opponent.

All that said, RMU remains the best hope for a Mercyhurst challenger. It sure doesn’t appear that Syracuse is up to the task. The Orange were dispatched quite easily by Colgate, 5-0, on Monday night — not exactly a confidence builder heading into a weekend versus Mercyhurst. Am I wrong, or does Syracuse seem to be heading in the wrong direction?

Candace: I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Orange are heading in the wrong direction, though that might partly be do to me overestimating them. After Syracuse beat New Hampshire for the second straight year, I thought the Orange were a team on the rise, and destined to perhaps finally give Mercyhurst some competition in the CHA. However, as the Wildcats have proved since then, they are not the powerhouse team that made five straight NCAA tournament appearances and two Frozen Fours, so Syracuse beating New Hampshire might not even be considered an upset in this season. Also, the Orange lost Isabel Ménard to Boston University, which is huge. Ménard led the Orange in scoring last year with 43 points, 15 more points than team no. 2 Julie Rising, who graduated, and 16 more than Ashley Cockell, who also graduated. Menard has 18 points this season for the Terriers. Factor in that team no. 4 scorer Akane Hosoyamada only has two points this season, and I think we can see why the Orange have fallen off. The Orange face the Lakers gauntlet this weekend, so if there was any time for its offense to wake up, now would be good.

Speaking of offensive woes, the Ohio State Buckeyes continued their mercurial play, only getting three goals in two disappointing ties with Princeton, even though Natalie Spooner was playing. Post-holiday letdown, or just the Buckeyes showing they aren’t ready for anything close to WCHA top billing?

Arlan:  The post-holiday readjustment should be the same for both teams, so I don’t think that makes for much of an excuse. As you said, the Buckeyes did have Spooner, she fired 16 shots, but couldn’t get any to go. They didn’t have their other key senior, Laura McIntosh, nor Europeans Annie Svedin and Minttu Tuominen — one more example of rosters being compromised by international commitments, and hopefully after the coming week, that will be the last of it this season. That left Ohio State with only 15 skaters versus Princeton, but again, the Tigers only had 14, so OSU wasn’t at a disadvantage.

I hear coaches say the same thing over and over, essentially that the separation between most teams in the middle of the pack isn’t that great, and many games will come down to a goal either way. I guess in the case of Princeton and OSU, nobody could find that goal. In the final analysis, these ties that feel like losses for the Buckeyes may not be that costly, as they likely aren’t close enough for the bubble for it to matter in the national picture. If they play to form over the second half, they will suffer enough losses to keep them out of the running for an at-large bid.

We have more examples of teams playing with key players away at international competition this week. Ohio State should be able to handle St. Cloud State without their trio, but then I expected them to be okay versus Princeton as well. Harvard plays three games on the road without Sarah Edney:  Connecticut, Princeton, and Quinnipiac. The Bobcats are minus Nicole Kosta for that game as well as one with Dartmouth. Mercyhurst is missing Bailey and Shelby Bram for its Syracuse trip. A Boston University team that’s been struggling as it is goes to Maine without Isabel Ménard and Tara Watchorn. Clarkson won’t have Jamie Lee Ratray at Northeastern and BC. Cornell gets hit hard again, as Amanda Mazzotta, Hayleigh Cudmore, Jessica Campbell, Jillian Saulnier, Chelsea Karpenko, and Catherine White are all absent, although it may not matter against Union and RPI. Genevieve Lacasse won’t be around for Providence’s series with RMU. And both Wisconsin and Minnesota must fill holes for their big series, as Badgers Brittany Haverstock and Saige Pacholok and the Gophers’ Sarah Davis are in Germany at the Meco Cup, along with everyone else mentioned above. The conflict might be easier to accept were it for a more meaningful event, but I’m not even sure what the age group for the Meco is. The other countries seem to use anyone they want, while Canada’s roster consists mainly of U-22 players with the odd exception like Lacasse or Mallory Deluce. It’s like a made-for-TV event without the TV. In addition, BC’s Alex Carpenter is in the Czech Republic for the U-18 World Championships. At least that tourney has a recognizable structure.

Do any of those absences jump out at you as a potential problem for the impacted college team?

Candace: I find the Meco Cup’s appearance in the middle of the season a little pointless. It’s not like the men with the World Juniors. Looking at those outages, there are a couple that pop out. Merychurst missing Bailey Bram would be much worse if the Lakers were facing someone from the PairWise, instead of Syracuse. As it is, the Lakers are probably deep enough that Syracuse shouldn’t pose a problem. Cornell is missing a couple of really important players in Saulnier and Mazzotta. I would like to think RPI and Union have enough to trouble Cornell, but RPI got blown out by Clarkson and St. Lawrence before the break, so probably not. That leaves the Boston teams, who both lose key players. Carpenter is Boston College’s leading scorer, and Menard is second for the Terriers. BC isn’t playing bottom dwellers like some of the other squads; both St. Lawrence and Clarkson have enough firepower to be troublesome to even a fully-loaded Eagles’ team. The Terriers are the team I think that will suffer the most though; with Marie Philip-Poulin still injured, losing Ménard, a leading offensive cog, and Watchorn, a leader on defense, when the Terriers play a dangerous Black Bears squad, could be the nail in BU’s tournament hopes. The Terriers really can’t afford to lose to anybody except for Boston College if they hope to get an at-large bid. If they even split with Maine, I don’t see the Terriers making it back to the tournament.

You mentioned the Wisconsin-Minnesota series. I figure that the Badgers still have most of their firepower, as do the Gophers. I expect you are in for a treat getting to see that series at Ridder this weekend! Wisconsin certainly has a gauntlet to run to start the second half, with Minnesota, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Bemidji over the next four weeks. What are your initial thoughts on Gophers-Badgers, and Wisconsin’s second half start?

Arlan: For the Cornell absences, it isn’t even a question of who — although they will lose three of their top five scorers. How many seems to be a bigger problem, with five skaters being gone from a team that typically only has 17. As far as the Eagles without Carpenter, I agree with you, except that Clarkson faces the same problem without Rattray.

The holes for the Badgers and Gophers are more subtle. Wisconsin is very deep on the blue line, so they’ll have plenty of bodies to insert into the rotation, but I’m sure they’d like to have Haverstock and Pacholok, likely both in the top four of their depth chart for defensemen, when going against a top offense. For Minnesota, although Davis hasn’t lit up the scoreboard, she is vital to the puck possession and defensive efforts of its second line, so a big factor for the series may be how the coaching staff elects to replace her. They can either slide a wing like Sarah Erickson with experience at center into the middle, or move up the third-line center, Becky Kortum, and find a replacement on her line. In my opinion, the Gophers need to sweep this series to have a realistic shot at the league title. If they come out of the weekend trailing Wisconsin, I doubt they can expect to play the rest of the WCHA slate better than a squad that was perfect against everyone else over the first pass. Given Minnesota last swept this series in 2005 and has only once won a series since, it doesn’t favor the Gophers getting the six points they need. As for the series being a treat, we’ll have to wait and see. The UW and UM meetings have offered up more clunkers over the years than either team’s history with UMD, and I’ll touch on that in this week’s column.

The schedule for Wisconsin looks tough on paper, but they had a similar stretch in the first half with BU instead of Bemidji State and went 7-1. If they match that again, they should be a lock for both the league title and the top seed in the NCAA tournament.

As for potential treats, I’m looking forward to watching the Clarkson and Northeastern game on Thursday afternoon. If they had Rattray, I’d give the Golden Knights a 50-50 chance of pulling an upset, and I’d like to watch her, as she is someone I’ve never seen play. Are there players that you’ve missed and would really like to see in action?

Candace: Well, it’s interesting that you mention that game, because I still haven’t seen Kendall Coyne of Northeastern, who is neck-and-neck with Vint for the rookie scoring title, and is probably more important to her team’s second half success. I also haven’t seen Cornell play yet this year, so I still want to see Saulnier play. I guess the team that comes to mind is Harvard. I haven’t seen the Crimson play in a while, so I am hoping to catch the Beanpot this year and see how the Crimson stack up.